It seems impossible to me that my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg could be gone now for two years. She was such a fighter, when it came to her health. There were a number of times that we thought we had lost her, but she always bounced back…until she didn’t. The end of her days had come, and with it, there were no parents in our lives again. My parents, Al and Collene Spencer and my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg were gone, and now my mother-in-law had joined them in Heaven. It felt empty here on earth. The loss hit hard with each of my four parents, but with my mother-in-law, there was also the finality of it. We had no more parents. We, their children, are the matriarchs and patriarchs of our families now, but it feels like we are orphans. The knowledge that you have no parents, really brings that orphaned feeling home.
My mother-in-law, was a homemaker for most of her life, and very skilled in things like cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and canning. These were things she passed down to her daughters, and to me. Of course, my own mother taught me part of these things too, but we didn’t can often, other than making jelly, and the things my mother-in-law cooked were different from my own mom, so that added variety to my abilities. My mother-in-law, was probably best known for her sewing, knitting, and crocheting. She sold many of her crafts at craft fairs over the years, adding to the family budget and to her craft budget as well. She also loved to bake, and her “Murder Cake” was a family favorite.
My in-laws lived in the country for most of the time I knew them, but they moved to town in the last years of their lives. While she preferred the quiet of the country, my mother-in-law did enjoy watching all the activity that took place near their home at the corner of two busy streets in In her later years, my mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Casper. After she had to be moved to Shepherd of the Valley nursing home, she enjoyed the activity there, especially at the nurses station, because she was a “people watcher” all her life. She liked to see what everyone around her was up to, and figure it all out, even wondering why they spoke to the people they did, or did the things they did. I was glad that her curiosity never left her. It made her time in the nursing home must more interesting. Finally, on January 4, 2018, she lost her health battle. Like most Alzheimer’s patients, it was not the disease that took her, but rather that her kidneys gave out. She passed peacefully that evening, after having her family around her earlier in the day. She simply went to sleep, and went home. While we were so sorry to see her go, we knew she was tired of fighting. We love and miss her very much.
My niece, Michelle Stevens sees things that most of us would miss. Of course, when I say that, I am talking about seeing art in things most of us couldn’t even imagine. Not all of these things were her ideas, but she could make them work, because she is very talented. Her artwork is truly prize winning. Michelle has studied every form of art in her pursuit of her art education degree, and I think she could do any of them and will no doubt create some in the future.
Michelle has taken up crocheting. I did that once, but I don’t think I was nearly as talented as Michelle. She made a beautiful blanket for her little niece, Elliott Michelle Stevens. It is beautiful in gray, pink, and white. Little did Michelle know at the time she was making the blanket, but her sister-in-law, Kayla was decorating Elliott’s room in pink and gray. The blanket fit in perfectly. Of course, becoming an aunt to Elliott has been the biggest change in Michelle’s life for this year. She doesn’t get to see as much of little Elliott as she would like, because she and her parents live in Sheridan, and Michelle lives in Casper, but she is still Aunty Michelle, and that is very cool. Michelle has also taken up sewing with a sewing machine her mom, Alena Stevens gave her. She wants to make quilts and things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few little baby outfits make their way to Elliott for her Aunty Michelle either. Michelle sees many different things as art, and she is very good at all of them. She makes wreaths, pottery, and is planning to take up mosaic glass art. Even Michelle’s fur babies, dogs Obie and Leia got gifts. She made them stockings, because she loves those puppies like babies and I hear they are spoiled rotten. Michelle is an artist in every sense of the word. Oh…to have such talent!! Unfortunately it is not in my sphere.
On top of all her artwork, Michelle is a great cook. When we had our family Christmas party last weekend, Michelle made crab stuffed mushrooms. They were amazing. Michelle loves to cook, and like everything else in her world, she considers it a form of art too. The more creative she can get with it the more she likes it. Oh…to have such talent!! Today is Michelle’s birthday. Happy birthday Michelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Alzheimer’s Disease is a thief…I’ll give you that, but as I’ve tried to convey to several people, it is not, in my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to a person. I know that sounds so odd, especially to those who feel that Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease that steals the mind/memory of their loved ones. It does do that, eventually, but if you take a moment to view it differently, you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it is not as bad as you thought it was. Most people are stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease later in life…at a time when many of them feel that their life is over. They aren’t as active as they were. They have more aches and pains. They begin to lose loved ones, and eventually that brings grief to most of us. They might even feel depressed. I don’t say that Alzheimer’s Disease alleviates these things in all people, but it did for my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg. I know that in her later stages, much of her memory will be gone, but maybe it won’t either, because she has had Alzheimer’s Disease since 2004 that we are sure of. That’s twelve years, and those old memories are still there. It’s just the new memories that she doesn’t keep, and still, I don’t think that is a bad thing.
With all the negative aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease, there are a few aspects that stand out to me, as very good things. My mother-in-law was always busy doing things. She had a routine. She wasn’t super active, but she knitted, sewed, crocheted, canned, cooked, and baked. These were the things that gave her a feeling of self worth, and oddly they aren’t gone now. If you ask the nurses and aides at the nursing home where she lives, you will find that when it is time for dinner, she tells them that she will be cooking it. She will pick up the blanket on her lap and begin “working” on her crocheting…often using her oxygen tubing as her crochet hook. She tells me about her grocery shopping trips to town, and the things she buys there. She feels no grief for loved ones now in Heaven, because to her they are still right here. She informs me that she will wait to eat dinner until Walt (my father-in-law, who passed away May 5, 2013) gets home. Dinner can’t wait that long obviously, so I just tell her he is at Walmart, in the garage, or at the neighbors, and said for her to eat without him. He might even be at work, although he retired many, many years ago. She talks of her parents, her daughter, Marlyce, and family members who live too far away for visits, as if they are still here, and yet when her daughter, Brenda visits in the morning, she doesn’t remember it later that day. Still, Brenda knows she was there, and that is what is important. She made her mom happy.
I know too, that when Bob and I, or my daughter, Corrie Petersen and I leave her side, she doesn’t remember that we were there either, but we know that we were there, and while we are there, she knows that we are there. And that is really what matters anyway. I guess it’s all in how you look at Alzheimer’s Disease. You can grieve the changes, or be thankful for her, that she is missing nothing. All the memories she needs are still in there, and they peek out once in a while…and it’s good enough. Is it really necessary for her to remember all the sad things? I just don’t think so, and I will keep them from her for the rest of her life, by telling her what she really needs to hear that day. It makes her happy, and happiness is all that matters.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a mind thief, and when your loved one has been diagnosed with it, you find yourself thinking often of all that they have lost. You have to remind yourself to look at what they still have, which is hard sometimes. My mother-in-law is really a shell of what she used to be, and even though she seems happy with her life, I remember the things she used to do, such as knitting, crocheting, sewing, cake decorating, canning, baking, and raising her family. In her lifetime she made many people happy with the various things she made, and it is sad to think that she won’t be making those things anymore, even though she thinks she still does.
One thing that I have had to look back on, even though she will never do that again either, is her horses. My mother-in-law would have lived on a horse if she could have figured out a way. If she could have figured out a way to never get off, she would have done it. She owned horses with names like Molly and her colt Pie Face, Danny, and Twinkles. I don’t know who named the horses, but my guess is that it was her. There are a number of pictures of her with and on horses. And of course, her favorite shows are Westerns. I’m quite sure she can picture herself on the horses they are riding, galloping across the prairie. I don’t think she ever liked driving a car much, and she only did it when she absolutely had to, but a horse, she would had taken everywhere, if only she could have.
I agree with the research I have done concerning Alzheimer’s patients, in the you need to forget what they can no longer do, and focus on what they can, but I also think that sometimes it helps in their care, to remember what they used to be, because in so many ways, they think they still are that person from the past and they still do the things they used to do. They don’t know that they no longer do those things. I wish she could still be that person from the past, but since she can’t, I’ll just remind her of the days when she was a horsewoman…and a very good one.